Game 3 in St. Pete began nicely enough. Jose Altuve homered off Charlie Morton (his 10th postseason homer) and Zack Greinke stuck out the first two batters he faced in a 1-2-3 inning.
The bats must return Tuesday
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
But this is Tropicana Field, the Astros' personal torture chamber. Kevin Keirmaier took Greinke deep with two aboard in the second and the Rays piled on for a 10-3 verdict before a delighted but seriously underattended crowd of 32,251. Yes, it's a 1 p.m. start on a Monday but this is the playoffs and the lack of a full house was evident.
That didn't matter to the Rays who are used to such slights. Many of them have the attitude of overachieving underdogs who don't know when to quit. Greinke allowed solo homers to Ji-Man Choi and Brandon Lowe to fall behind, 5-1, in the fourth.
After a two-out walk, manager A.J. Hinch replaced Greinke with Hector Rondon who allowed a single then Hinch reached for the white flag and brought in Wade Miley. Austin Meadows greeted him with a two-run double and Tommy Pham chased home Meadows with a base hit.
Yuli Gurriel made it 8-3 in the sixth with a two-run single but the Rays just tacked on two more runs for the final margin. Pitchers Joe Smith and Josh James mopped up.
Meanwhile Morton, one of the heroes of the 2017 postseason, got a measure of revenge for an earlier pounding in Houston. He fanned nine before bowing out after five innings. Tampa used four relievers to get through the final four frames. The exit after 93 pitches makes you wonder if Morton might get called on for a short relief stint in a potential Game Five, if the series goes that far.
Altuve, Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez each had two of Houston's seven hits but the squad was 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Justin Verlander will get the call for Tuesday's Game Four which will either begin at 3:15 pm CDT should Minnesota beat the Yankees Monday night or 6:15 pm CDT if the Yankees sweep. I expect the plan is to ask Verlander to give the Astros 5-6 innings on short rest (he pitched last Friday in Game One) and have Jose Urquidy on standby if he tires sooner. Such an appearance could still leave him ready for a potential Game One of the ALCS in Houston next Saturday. If a Game 5 is needed to decide the Division Series, that game would be Thursday in Houston and Gerrit Cole would start, pushing him back to Game Three of the ALCS at the earliest.
Miley is clearly out of the rotation now so Urquidy would be the fourth rotation starter if pressed into service. Bullpen stalwarts like Roberto Osuna, Will Harris and Ryan Pressly would all be available with at least two days' rest.
Per Brian McTaggart, the Astros are 9-19 all-time at Tropicana Field but those looking for a ray of hope can recall that Verlander won there on Opening Day, 5-1. It would be a fitting bookend to see Verlander close out the Rays' 2019 season too.
- Bob Hulsey